Ultra (British band)
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|Past members||James Hearn
Ultra (also recording as Rider) was an English male pop band, which was most successful in the late 1990s. The original line-up consisted of James Hearn (born 19 June 1976) (vocals), Michael Harwood (born 12 December 1975) (guitar), Jon O'Mahony (born 10 August 1973) (drums) and Nick Keynes (born 3 May 1972) (bass).
Although sometimes mistakenly described as a manufactured boyband, Ultra was originally formed by James Hearn, James Rose, Michael Harwood and Jon O'Mahony who were schoolfriends from Buckinghamshire, England in the mid 1990s. After they left school they formed various bands, playing under names such as Stepping Stoned, Decade and Suburban Surfers. They eventually called themselves Ultra (named after the Depeche Mode album), and the following year Nick Keynes joined as bass player after being introduced by mutual friend Neil Cowley, who was the keyboard player for the Brand New Heavies.
Their demo tape eventually came to the attention of Ian Stanley (ex-Tears for Fears) and they were signed to Warner's EastWest label. In 1998 they released their first single, "Say You Do", written by band members, which reached #11 in the UK. Their next single, "Say it Once", only charted at #16 in the UK, but became a #1 hit in Italy, Australia and all over SE Asia, as well as hitting the Top 10 spot in several other territories including Spain and the Middle East. Over the next two years they had several singles in the UK, Italian and Spanish top 20, and in 1999, their debut album, Ultra, entered the UK top 40 at #37. Their final single for Warners was "Rescue Me", which charted in the UK at No 8, the band's only British Top 10 single, but hit the No 1 spot in several territories.
The band were very popular with young female audiences, although they insisted that their success came primarily from their songs, not their looks. Ultra performed live and also supported a number of other pop acts including Irish boyband Boyzone in 1997, former Eternal member Louise Nurding for a performance at Wembley, and boyband 911. They were particularly popular in South East Asia and Italy, where they were mobbed by 3000 teenage girls at a record signing in Milan.
The band performed on Top Of The Pops three times, as well as saturated UK and international TV coverage over a two-year period. Their biggest audience was at a festival in Seville where they performed to over 100,000 people.
Despite selling over a million records worldwide, the band lost their contract before recording their second album, as all of the record company A&R who signed them had left, and the new hierarchy passed on the opportunity to record a follow-up. They were offered several deals from other record companies after leaving Warners, including Universal Records in Italy and EMI in SE Asia, but nothing materialized. The band split up in 2001 after James Hearn became disillusioned with the music business and decided to leave. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph James said of his time in Ultra: "My music career was great fun and, as a bunch of guys who got together at Leeds University to give the musical bigtime a go, we had a good time".
Careers after break-up
James Hearn initially left the music business to work as a property surveyor in Slough but in 2004 he returned to college. He continued to write and produce tracks for other artists.
In 2005 the four original members of the band reunited to write and record their second studio album, The Sun Shines Brighter, which also features songs written by former member Alistair Griffin, (who provides guest vocals on one of the tracks). Producer credits on the album include Ian Stanley (who produced their first album), Claudio Guidetti (Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti), and Ash Howes (Texas, Blue). This was released on 2 October 2006 on the Goldust label.
The other band members formed a new group with a number of different short term vocalists including Ryan Molloy. Singers Alistair Griffin and James Fox were both briefly members of the band at different times.
In 2002 several members of Ultra wrote and recorded a song to celebrate the World Cup, called "England Crazy", which they recorded as a one-off project as 'Rider' with Terry Venables. This project was re-signed to their old record label East West, but only reached number 46 in the UK chart due to a lacklustre campaign from the label. It has since been featured on a number of football-themed compilation albums.
O'Mahony, Harwood and Keynes set up a music production company, Goldust, writing and producing for other artists such as Bryan Adams, Kylie Minogue, Natasha Bedingfield, Phixx and Liberty X. They have also written music for movies, with title tracks on the Andy García movie Modigliani, and The Magic Roundabout.
- Ultra (Feb 1999, #37 UK, #1 Italy, #10 Spain, #1 SE Asia, #5 Australia)
- The Sun Shines Brighter (Oct 2006)
Singles which entered the UK and European charts.
- As Ultra
- "Say You Do" (April 1998, UK #11)
- "Say It Once" (July 1998,UK #16, Spain #2, Italy #1, AUS #1, SE Asia #1, New Zealand #4, Middle East #1)
- "The Right Time" (October 1998, UK #28)
- "Rescue Me" (Jan 1999, UK #8, SE Asia #1, Italy #9)
- "Blind to the Groove" (July 1999 Spain #4, Italy #7)
- As Rider (with Terry Venables)
- "England Crazy" (2002 UK #46)
- Ultra Discography at Rate Your Music
- Ultra Discography at Discogs
- Interview with Nina Ti, 1998
- Interview with Jon O'Mahony, HitQuarters Apr 2009